Cicero Ancient Classics for English Readers, Collins, Rev. W. Lucas 1817-1887
This volume represents a combination of several forms (biography, history of the period, and samples of Cicero’s literary output). Although Cicero lived some 2,000 years ago, he sounds rather like a member of the upper crust in 19th Century England.
Rome had exerted control over a vast area by force of arms, but its political structure was corrupt at the core and the election of rulers with defined responsibilities to serve limited terms was dying out. A member of the old school, Cicero supported (but did not participate in) the assassination of Julius Caesar (after Caesar declared himself emperor). If the idea was to restore the Roman republic it didn’t work. Other emperors followed, many far worse than Caesar. Cicero made something of a pest of himself, and he was killed a few years later by followers of Mark Anthony.
Much is known about Cicero’s inner thoughts and feelings because he was an inveterate writer (legal arguments, speeches, political & philosophical essays, and letters to friends) and much of what he wrote has been preserved. Nevertheless, there is a good deal of controversy as to why he did various things during his life.
The author raises an interesting question: do we really understand Cicero better than other ancient figures who did not leave a similar record? “It is true that we cannot look into the private letters of Caesar, or Pompey, or Brutus, as we can into Cicero’s, but it is not so certain that if we could, our estimate of their characters would be lowered.”
There are some parallels in the political situation in late republican/early imperial Rome and the increasingly bitter tone in our political system today. Will there come a time when the US political system breaks down too, as voters lose faith in the results and the factions turn from debate to violence?
Time will tell, but one gets an eerie sense from this book of how things could go wrong for America.